Mahomet’s Treasure

Abdallah Mahomet arrived in Western Australia in the 1840s and by the late 1860s had relocated to Geraldton. An early settler in the area, he lived on a piece of land two miles south of the town, surrounded by sand dunes and possessing its own underground water source.

The Government allotted to him for the period of his natural life about ten acres of ground, a small portion of which he regularly cultivated…

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954); 4 August 1880; Page 1; Country Letters

Making use of the plentiful water on his property, he took to growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Carrying two baskets at the end of a long pole, he regularly walked into town and offered his produce for sale.

As he grew older he became known to everyone as Old Mahomet and the area where he lived was called Mahomets Flats. Alcohol, however, grew to be a problem in his life.

On 24 July 1880, 70 year old Mahomet left his home at 7 am with the aim to reach Geraldton between the hours of 8 am and 9 am. He went there on a specific errand but refused to state what it was until he got back.

At 1:30 pm he purchased a loaf of bread from Gale, Monger & Co’s store and paid for it with coppers. He left the store and stated his intention to return home. According to Henry Kenny, he looked as though he was drunk but was not so drunk as to be incapacitated. Henry watched him walk in the direction of his home. It was the last time he saw him.

An hour later Martin Murray came across Mahomet lying on his back on the road in the sand hills. He was only about 400 metres from his house. Martin woke him up and Mahomet responded, “Eh, all right,” and rolled over onto his side. Seeing as though he wasn’t going to get up, Martin covered Mahomet’s head with a bag (presumably to protect his face from the elements) and then continued on to Geraldton. As he walked he noticed drag marks in the sand, a sign that Mahomet had been dragging his bag along the ground. Like Henry, Martin thought that he was drunk and was sleeping it off on the road.

At 4 pm Walter James Brown realised that Mahomet still hadn’t returned. He too lived on the property and was aware that he’d left to go to Geraldton on an errand he thought was connected to the land. Walter checked Mahomet’s house but found it empty. He had tea and at sunset went back to check again. Nothing had changed. It was still empty.

Leaving the property to search for Mahomet, Walter came across him in the sand hills. He was in the same spot Martin had seen him earlier, lying on his left side with a bag partly over his face.

Assuming he was drunk, Walter tried to rouse him but found that he was dead. Mahomet kept brandy in a bag and Walter tried to pour some liquid down his throat but stated his head “was lower than his feet.

The body of Mahomet was brought to Geraldton where the Medical Officer, Charles Elliott, conducted a post mortem examination. There were no signs of violence but he observed that Mahomet had congestion of the lungs and heart disease. He concluded that death was caused by heart disease, further accelerated by the presence of alcohol.

The inquest into the cause of death was held on 26 July 1880 at the Court House at Geraldton. Isaac Walker, David Hepburn and John Glaskin were called as jurors. At the conclusion of the witnesses’ evidence they gave “a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony.

News quickly spread of the sudden death of Mahomet; a man who was considered an old identity of Geraldton. The writer for the ‘Under the Verandah’ column in the Victorian Express described Mahomet as an old friend. He had often purchased melons from him over the years and even sheepishly admitted to having stolen one on a Sunday. At the time he was accompanied by a Justice of the Peace and he too helped himself to celery growing in the garden. He reflected on the last time he saw Mahomet, lecturing unreservedly and severely scolding a sales assistant for playing tricks on him.

While the story was no doubt public knowledge, it was this writer who was the first to mention the talk and questions amongst the townspeople: where had Mahomet hidden his bag of gold? He seemed to think it may have been in the vegetable garden itself.

I wonder how many have been digging holes around his melon patch.

Victorian Express (Geraldton, WA : 1878-1894); 4 August 1880; Page 3; Under the Verandah

Speculation continued in a letter dated 26 July 1880 that was sent to the editor of The West Australian advising them of Geraldton news. Having first provided details of the death, the writer went on to say that many people believed he had ‘yellow boys’ (gold sovereigns) hidden away in a quiet corner of his garden. They were certain a search would be instigated but were of the opinion that it would be fruitless.

19 years later the legend of Mahomet’s gold persisted. Elaborating on the story with their imagination, T. Whitefoot Broadway wrote a fictionalised account of a man searching for the treasure and encountering the ghost of Old Mahomet. The story is obviously exaggerated but is nevertheless worth a read in view of the fact that it utilises a local legend. Read it here: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3241386

Obsessed with finding the treasure, the man searched for weeks at Mahomets Flats. He eventually found a secret tunnel leading to a cave housing piles of gold coins, wads of bank notes, boxes of pearls and precious stones. It was the tunnel and cave in the story that was too much for the Geraldton Advertiser. When it was reprinted a year later they were heavily critical of the author for including grossly incorrect depictions of Geraldton’s topography.

Caves on the Geraldton beach – back or front – could arise only in the imagination of a person who had never seen the place.

Geraldton Advertiser (WA : 1893-1905); 31 December 1900; Page 2; Local and General

In 1906 there was talk of using the water at Mahomets Flats in the hope that it would provide a permanent source of water for the town. Geraldtonians had long known of the water there and as talk turned to digging in the area, thoughts naturally turned to Mahomet and his treasure.

It may be as well to mention that there is a chance of ‘treasure trove’ for those engaged in poking about Mahomet’s Flat.

Geraldton Express (WA : 1906-1919); 17 September 1906; Page 3; Capricious Carpings

It was reported that Mahomet was said to have “amassed a considerable sum” and, being distrustful of banks, hid “several hundred canaries” (gold sovereigns) somewhere on the property. Despite the legend, nothing of significance was ever found.

Intestate records at the State Records Office of Western Australia shed a little more light on the story. Far from being afraid of banks, a search of Mahomet’s property uncovered that he had eight pounds, four shillings and ten pence lodged with the National Bank in town.

He left no Will and had no known relatives. Mahomet’s Estate was handed over to the Supreme Court for distribution. Once four pounds and five shillings was reimbursed to the Government for payment of his burial, the remainder was distributed to creditors. With the creditors paid, there was nothing left.

While a little over eight pounds was not insignificant, it certainly wasn’t the hundreds of gold sovereigns Mahomet was said to have hidden in the sand. Was there any treasure buried at Mahomets Flats? It’s a question that’s not easily answered. Mahomet was different and lived on the outskirts of Geraldton society for years. His difference, his isolation and perhaps even his behaviour at times, resulted in questions. Questions without answers often become stories. Stories themselves (especially those involving treasure) tend to take hold in the public’s imagination. Nevertheless, a story has to start somewhere. The fact that he utilised a bank for some of his money doesn’t mean that he utilised a bank for all of his money. Who knows, perhaps somewhere in the sand at Mahomets Flats there’s a secret hoard of coins lying undisturbed, just waiting for someone to find it again.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

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7 thoughts on “Mahomet’s Treasure

  1. Congratulations! Your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2019/06/friday-fossicking-28th-jun-2019.html

    Thank you, Chris

    I wonder how many untold stories there are yet to be discovered about numerous loners, those who for one reason or another, were set aside as being different.
    Mahomet will live on because you took the time to acknowledge him.. isn’t that what we all want, simply to be acknowledged…

    Like

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